27 September 2023

Setting boundaries when everyone feels overworked

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine* says there are five ways successful women draw boundaries when everyone’s quitting (and they’re picking up the slack).

A recent Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 workers around the world found that 41 per cent of the global workforce has been considering leaving their current employer this year, and 46 per cent are planning to make a “major pivot” in their careers.

The Great Resignation, describing the phenomenon of workers worldwide leaving their jobs in droves, is clearly here.

Some are burnt out from changes in their workload during the pandemic.

Others have found that their priorities are changing, and they’re seeking new roles.

Whatever the reason, with so many employees quitting, the burden is often falling on their (former) co-workers to pick up the slack.

If you’re finding that you’re overwhelmed with responsibilities, it’s time to draw boundaries at work. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Say “no.”

A huge part of establishing boundaries — at work and otherwise — is knowing how and when to say no.

Without including that crucial word in your vocabulary, you’ll probably find yourself succumbing to pressures and constantly dealing with competing priorities.

Having trouble saying no? Practice in lower-stakes environments.

Learn how to turn down invitations from close friends and family — people you trust to stay by you — when you feel overwhelmed, for example.

  1. Ask for help.

There’s no shame in asking for help from people who are in an excellent position to give it to you.

Take your boss. They are positioned to help you with your workload — or take some responsibility off of your plate if you’re completely overwhelmed.

Remember, too, that while you shouldn’t exploit this relationship, your manager is probably looking for any way to keep you if your co-workers are leaving in droves, so they will more than likely be eager to support you.

And if your responsibilities have increased substantially, this could be the optimal time to ask for a raise.

  1. Set “off” times for self-care.

Even if you have a million things to do, you still need to make time for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll feel irritable and exhausted.

In addition to setting time limits for yourself at work, give yourself soothing activities to look forward to — a massage, regular meditation sessions, a great book, a glass of wine, a nice meal, a pedicure or whatever gives you a moment of pleasure.

Maybe even get away for the weekend if you can, or enjoy a nice staycation at home.

The point is, you should have a list of self-care and other soothing activities readily available, and make time for them, so you have something to anticipate during the long work hours.

  1. Communicate your boundaries.

Make sure clearly vocalise the boundaries you put in place.

For instance, if you’ve established off times, like on Saturdays and nights after 7 pm, let your colleagues know so that they only contact you then in absolute emergencies. Explain, too, what you mean by “emergency.”

If you have direct reports, put structures in place to help them respect your boundaries, such as giving them names of other managers to contact if need be.

Unless you clearly define and communicate your boundaries, you may well end up frustrated because others are unknowingly failing to respect them.

  1. Don’t sacrifice your work ethic.

As tempting as it may be to just avoid your responsibilities when you’re feeling overwhelmed, take care not to sacrifice your work ethic.

Sure, it probably feels unfair that you’re being forced to pick up the slack, and it may seem like a thankless job, but if you’re choosing to stay, you still need to put in the same amount of effort as you did previously.

Remember: you have your professional reputation and career at stake, and you don’t want to burn bridges.

Even if you have one foot out the door, it’s important to keep contributing and committing to the job you have now.

*Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor.

This article first appeared at fairygodboss.com.au.

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